“Out beyond ideas, there is a forest…… meet me there”
Cathy Fitzgerald is an Irish-based New Zealander living in rural South East Ireland (she moved to Ireland over 20 years ago). She has a background in research biology, contemporary art and science, and ecological art practice (eco-social art practice), social media for building online communities, new-to-Ireland non-clearfell forestry approaches and related policy development.
In the late 1990s, Cathy was involved in Crann – the Irish forest NGO group and worked to raise awareness about hedgerows and broadleaf forestry (in 1903, only about 1% of Ireland’s land remained forested, and since the 1950s, North American Sitka spruce ,destined for clearfell forestry, makes up a predominantly monoculture forest industry that covers ~12% of Ireland).
Cathy began her contemporary art studies at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), Ireland, in 1996; gaining a first class Joint Honours Degree in Fine Art and Irish Art History. In 2002, she completed an MA in Fine Art at NCAD with a focus on new media (virtual realities).
Cathy’s contemporary art practice developed an interest in art and science from 2000 onwards, with a notable permanent exhibition following an Arts Council Residency at Trinity College Dublin’s Zoology Department, co-ordinated by Prof. Paula Murphy. In 2006, she revisited Crann’s early 1990s Leitrim community forestry project ‘The Local Project‘ with Crann founder Jan Alexander, and developed a solo exhibition at The Dock gallery. In 2008, she was invited to join the committee of ProSilva Ireland, part of a European network of forest professionals of ProSilva Europe advancing Close-to-Nature forestry as an alternative to monoculture, clearfell forestry. In 2008, she also began her ongoing, art and ecology Hollywood forest project. Cathy was involved in the Green Party forestry policy development group from 2010-12 and from 2012-2017 she was the Green Party’s forest policy spokesperson. Of note, Cathy successfully argued for Close-to-Nature continuous cover forestry to be a priority of the Green Party’s forest policy published in 2012. In January, 2019, to the great delight of Cathy and other members of Pro Silva Ireland, the Forest Service of Ireland, announced the first pilot scheme to fund landowners to adopt continuous cover forestry practices.
Cathy’s creative practice is research oriented and she has recently successfully defended her art practice doctoral research The Ecological Turn: Developing a Transversal Eco-Social Art Practice Within A Forest using Guattari’s Ecosophy and Action Research (2018) undertaken at NCAD. From analyses of her and others’ practices, she has developed a guiding theory-method framework as an original contribution to the emergent art and ecology field. Her framework significantly helps articulate long-term, transversal eco-social art practices and empowers other creative practitioners to engage in sophisticated and engaging practices relevant for the ecological turn in contemporary art practice.
In May 2018, she was invited by Dr. Karen Till and Prof. Gerry Kearns, Maynooth University, and Dr. Nessa Cronin, NUIG, to share her art and sustainability research and lead a workshop on the urgent need to develop art and sustainability policy for Ireland for the 2018 Irish Geography conference in Maynooth University. At an international cultural policy level, her research reveals that behavioural science, moral environmental philosophy and UNESCO, IFACCA and others recognise culture is the under-acknowledged 4th pillar to promote sustainability across civil society. Culture has immense social power to translate and localise environmental science so as to engage communities in diverse urban and rural regions about sustainability, in ways that are unavailable to science.
In 2019, she was awarded a feasibility study grant from the Carlow Enterprise Board and a Carlow Arts Office Award to develop an innovative online course, and local seminars, on essential ecoliteracy for the arts. In recognition of growing up in beautiful inspiring Aotearoa New Zealand, she is developing these courses under the name of Haumea, the name of the Earth goddess of the Pacific. In January 2019, she was delighted to be invited to teach the undergraduate art and ecology programme at the Burren College of art for the 2019 Spring semester.
In May 2019, she was invited by Dr. Nessa Cronin, NUIG, to again present the findings of her review of the absence of art and sustainability policy in Ireland, ahead of the 2019 EUGeo conference. At this conference, she has been awarded a Conference Enrichment Fund – EUGEO/CIG 2019 bursary to present other research from her ongoing eco-social art practice: ‘Good-Bye Anthropocene – Hello Symbiocene: articulating eco-social art practices that promote ecoliteracy and agency to help us move beyond 10,000 years of ecocide’.